A 37-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of DUI early Saturday after his car plunged into Bear Creek, and his passenger, a 60-year-old man, died, Merced police reported.
Luron Rushing of Merced allegedly swam away from the submerged car while the passenger was left inside the vehicle. The name of the victim hasn't been released, pending notification of family or next of kin, police said.
Detectives think Rushing was driving a 1978 Cad-illac eastbound on West North Bear Creek, west of Brookside Drive, shortly after 1:30 a.m. He tried to turn a corner, but the car left the south side of the road, according to Sgt. Jay Struble.
After the car struck sand bags along the creek's edge and a telephone pole guide wire, it became airborne and landed upside down in the water. Rushing exited the vehicle and swam to the south side of the creek. The passenger remained inside the car, which became submerged under 10 feet of water.
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Officers responded to the scene within minutes and found Rushing on the creek's south shore. He told officers the passenger was inside the car, Struble said.
The Merced County Sheriff's Dive Team and Merced Fire Department paramedics responded, but rescue efforts were complicated by the creek's steep terrain. Two hours later, the victim's body was recovered after a tow truck partially removed the car from the water. Struble said it's unknown whether the victim drowned or was killed by the impact. Responders also found two dead dogs inside the car.
A preliminary breath test indicated that Rushing had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.13 percent, far above the state's 0.08 legal limit, according to police.
Police say he was driving on a suspended license stemming from a September DUI arrest. During that incident, police said his blood-alcohol concentration was 0.17 percent.
Under questioning, Rushing told officers he'd been drinking at a friend's 18th Street home before the crash. Rushing claimed he was driving the 30 mph speed limit around the corner when his car left the road. Struble said the safe speed for turning that corner is 15 mph and there were no skid marks on the road.
Rushing was booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, felony drunk driving, driving on a suspended drivers license and felony animal cruelty. He's being held in lieu of $200,000 bail.
The incident is the second fatal suspected DUI crash on West North Bear Creek in fewer than two months.
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